Warning ‘second wave’ of legal highs on the way

THE damage caused by head shop drugs is likely to get worse as a “second wave” looks set to hit the country, an emergency consultant has warned.

Una Geary, emergency consultant at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, said emergency departments were only seeing the “most extreme tip of the iceberg” in terms of the scale of the problem.

HSE colleague Eamon Keenan, consultant psychiatrist in substance misuse, said there seemed to be a “production line” of drugs waiting to come onto the market from Far East laboratories. He said the drugs will “keep coming” despite new legislation here.

They were speaking at the launch of a €450,000 HSE national awareness campaign on the dangers of legal highs being sold in head shops or on the internet and recently banned products. The campaign, entitled Legal or Illegal Highs – They’re Anything But Safe, is being carried on radio and internet ads, in cinemas, washrooms, festivals and on online social networking sites.

“We believe that what we’ve seen today is probably just the first wave of a problem that is likely to increase and become more complex as new substances are developed to circumvent the law and other methods, such as the internet, are used to market and supply these drugs,” said Ms Geary.

She said misconceptions over these drugs need to be “clearly dispelled”, including that they are safe because they are sold in shops.

“These substances are potential poison, that is a fact. The effect of these drugs is entirely unpredictable.” They can cause heart attacks, coma and even death. She said doctors all over the country have seen patients suffering a breakdown of their muscle tissue.

“This resulted in proteins being released into their blood, destroying their kidney and those who have survived have often needed dialysis in the longer term.”

She said agents in some head shop products cause surges in blood pressure, which “can cause blood vessels to tear, rip and burst in the brain resulting in young people having strokes”.

She said she has seen injecting drug users with “very nasty” infections and inflammation.

Mr Keenan said “significant numbers” of legal high users were presenting to treatment services, suffering significant anxiety, paranoia and delusions. He said effects were lasting up to seven days and that in some cases people were presenting two weeks after taking the drug.

He said that recent use of a product called Whack had resulted in 40 people presenting to emergency departments, with at least seven people suffering “severe psychotic episodes”.

Drugs Minister Pat Carey said the campaign was needed despite the impending legislation criminalising the sale of mind-altering drugs and empowering gardaí to seek prohibition orders on head shop products.

He said he expected head shops owners to challenge the laws.

* HSE Drugs Helpline: 1800 459459 and www.drugs.ie.


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